Indians get inventive in protests against citizenship law
From ‘Game of Thrones’ to Hitler comparisons, protesters spell out their feelings on the streets
New Delhi — From Netflix to Hitler, protesters are tapping pop culture and history as they vent their anger against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new citizenship law — and with deft use of India’s beloved acronyms.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) eases naturalisation for persecuted religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but not if they are Muslim.
Critics fear it is the precursor to a national register of citizens (NRC), which many among India’s often undocumented 200-million Muslims is aimed primarily of making them stateless.
Modi’s government denies this and says the law is a humanitarian move, but it has sparked two weeks of protests that at times have been violent. At least 27 people have been killed.
“NRC is Coming” reads one placard, co-opting the “Winter is Coming” slogan of the smash hit fantasy series Game of Thrones, with Modi’s black and white mugshot in the background. Others inspired by the same fantasy series include “Winter is coming for Modi and Shah”, referring to home minister Amit Shah, and “Modi — you are making Cersei look good”, a nod to a Game of Thrones villain.
“Netflix and raise hell”, says another, in a spin on the expression “Netflix and chill”.
“Stop trying to make NRC happen!” rips off a popular line in the Lindsay Lohan movie Mean Girls.
Anjali Singh, clutching an “Error 404, Hindu nation not found” placard, said that Modi and his government have become more aggressive in moving forward with their Hindu agenda. “So our messaging has also got more explicit and direct,” Singh told AFP.
Slogans like “Long Live the Revolution”, a popular chant of India’s independence struggle against British, echo at many demos, with a rhyming chant of “If you act like Hitler, you will die like Hitler”.
Caricatures of Modi and Shah wearing Nazi uniform and posters of Hitler holding a baby-sized Modi aloft have become a staple of graffiti as well as videos and pictures have gone viral on social media.
“Everything that happens offline ends up online and we have to have a global appeal in our messaging,” Kiran Malhotra, a student protester in New Delhi, explained to AFP.
“Someone sitting in the US or Europe will not understand the change in India’s citizenship law but comparing Modi with Hitler simplifies it,” Malhotra said, her placard depicting a cartoon Modi with a swastika armband.
Many protesters are also rehashing Indian TV jingles from the 1980s to give a nostalgic touch to the protests, while others are using tambourine beats to sing “Down with Modi” or recite the preamble of India’s constitution.
Other favourites include a Hindi version of US civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome, as well as revolutionary Urdu poems.
“The messaging has to be more explicit and direct now,” Ira Sen, a protester, told AFP. Her poster features independence icon Mahatma Gandhi holding his My Experiments with Truth autobiography alongside Modi cradling what the drawing depicts as his version, “My experiments with lies”.
Homs to Hyderabad
Many people are demonstrating for the first time, drawing inspiration from protests in Hong Kong, Chile and the Arab Spring as well as against US President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries.
“People power can bring change. Democracy and constitution will win, despots will be thrown out,” Meenkshi Roy, an interior designer told AFP, holding a placard “Caesar will go ... Rome stays”.
Other placards are topical (“PM 2.0 is worse than PM2.5", a reference to a measure of pollution in India’s smog-choked cities), witty (“I have seen smarter cabinets at Ikea”), or just downright provocative (“Sex” in bright red ink followed by "#noCAA #noNRC”).
“There is more youthful but aggressive language in slogans and placards. Some of the placards are downright offensive, some mocking and many other are sarcastic,” Steve Rocha, an activist, told AFP. “This protest has everything — graphics, words, music, poetry and rage.”